U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in a discussion of the Sudanese conflict, remained optimistic Saturday about the hope for peace even as he stressed the causal relationships between conflict and climate that have brought so much suffering to the Horn of Africa region.
“Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in a convenient military and political shorthand – an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers,” Ban said in his Washington Post editorial. “Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic. Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.”
This week, as Africa’s climate issues are atop the COP22 agenda and the conference begins in Marrakech, Morocco, there’s one stark fact about Ban’s editorial that can’t be overlooked: It was written in 2007, at the start of his tenure, and published on a long-ago Saturday nearly 10 years ago.
“Two decades ago, the rains in southern Sudan began to fail,” Ban wrote, although it’s three decades now. “It is no accident that the violence in Darfur erupted during the drought.” His 2007 conclusion:
“The stakes go well beyond Darfur. Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist and one of my senior advisers, notes that the violence in Somalia grows from a similarly volatile mix of food and water insecurity. So do the troubles in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
There are many other parts of the world where such problems will arise, for which any solutions we find in Darfur will be relevant. We have made slow but steady progress in recent weeks. The people of Darfur have suffered too much, for too long. Now the real work begins.”
Today, all these years later, “the real work begins” at Marrakech.
Climate finance and the climate-conflict connection
The Paris Climate Agreement went into force last week, having met its ratification thresholds, and the participants in Marrakech are driven to achieve meaningful action with a specific emphasis on how African nations will meet their Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
While a lament for the lost opportunities may help shape the discourse – the patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople just issued a powerful call that refuses to whitewash that history of inaction on climate – this moment is about the urgent and collective commitment to a common future.
Jeffrey Sachs, in a climate finance piece last week for Project Syndicate, looked at the confluence of policy and practice in the post-2008 financial crisis that muted the international capacity for building infrastructure, and for making long-term investments in renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions.
His nod to the prowess of China in project planning and management, if not always environmental success, speaks to the need for performance and execution to achieve outcomes without neglecting the obvious: Action takes money, and Africa needs it.
“African countries’ combined spending on education alone should increase by tens of billions of dollars per year; combined infrastructure spending should surge by at least $100 billion per year,” Sachs writes. He calls on both China and the West to offer low-interest loans to support Africa, while facilitating the capacity for African nations to build their own wealth on a continuum of self-determining development.
Yet that investment, whether public or private, is rightly seen as risky across an African continent riven by ethnic conflict and civil war. The aversion to that risk is compounded by the complexity of doing business with nations whose histories of corruption and human rights violations contribute to the cyclical failures of sustainable African growth.
Those risks are achingly real, but taking them is the only option that will interrupt the climate-conflict connection that creates barriers to African investment.
It’s precisely that investment – with an emphasis on good governance and cultural resilience, not just projects – that will prevent food insecurity, the lack of access to water and energy and education and the digital economy, or the urban poverty and social inequities that so ironically contribute to the very conflicts that close the door on their own climate-finance remedies.
The nexus of climate change and conflict is now
“This is not a tale of a dystopian future; the nexus of climate change and conflict is already now upon us,” say a team of UN Development Programme experts focused on the Arab Region. Their October post urges the wealthy and privileged “to help combat the ‘slow violence’ inflicted by climate change on the poor and vulnerable – those least responsible for climate change.”
If Ban and Sachs once noted the symbiotic nature of climate stress and conflict in least developed countries (LDCs) like Somalia, Burkina Faso and the since-divided Sudan, those challenges today include the compromised hopes of the promising Nigeria or Ethiopia, Zimbabwe or COP22 host Morocco itself.
What Marrakech most needs to achieve are commitments that create an escape from the climate and conflict Catch-22 that is expressed in the sabotaged infrastructure of the Niger Delta, the land disputes and drought crisis behind Ethiopia’s state of emergency, the fishing-industry tensions of West Africa and Somalia and now Morocco – and the migrant tragedies of the Mediterranean driven by climate impacts.
As Ban passes the leadership torch to incoming UN Secretary General António Guterres, he will be no less of an advocate on climate, particularly given his deep experience as UN High Commissioner for Refugees. During his tenure, the UNHCR interviewed refugees and the displaced in Uganda and Ethiopia, to understand how climate impacted the decision to migrate from Eritrea, Somalia and eastern Sudan.
“They did everything they could to stay at home, but when their last crops failed, their livestock died, they had no option but to move; movement which often led them into greater harm’s way,” Guterres explained. He warned that climate change will be a “driver in worsening displacement crises,” adding his plea to an entire planet needed to respond to this challenge. It’s critical that at Marrakech, it does.
Because when Guterres said that? It was 2012.
Image: Ethiopia drought 2016/AP File Photo